European news publishers and governments have been trying to get Google to pay them to license content for years. There have been legal and legislative fights and tortured battles over copyright laws. After fighting the idea of paying publishers to display or link to their content, Google is now ready to comply.
Paying for ‘high-quality’ content. Google said earlier in a blog post that the company would begin paying “for high-quality content for a new news experience launching later this year.” It didn’t disclose any further information beyond the fact that the program will be part of “an enhanced storytelling experience that lets people go deeper into more complex stories.”
Google says it has signed licensing deals with both local and national publishers in three countries so far: Germany, Australia and Brazil, “with more coming soon.” Specific deal terms have not been disclosed, nor have any selection or participation criteria beyond the phrase “high quality.”
Demand up, ad revenue down. News publishers (and Google) have seen heightened demand and traffic for news content since 2016 but especially since the onset of COVID-19. However, ad revenues have declined significantly during the corresponding economic crisis. More publishers have been putting up paywalls, trying to capture subscription revenue rather than relying as much on advertising.
Google has increasingly invested in supporting journalism in recent years. The Google News Initiative, launched in 2018, is one example of a significant financial commitment to publishers. Facebook has undertaken its own efforts to support journalism as well.
Google News and Discover. Google says that it will pay for access to paywall-protected content on behalf of users in some cases under the new licensing program. The consumer experience will appear in Google News and in the Google Discover feed. It may be a significant evolution of the current “full coverage” treatment of certain stories in Google News.
We can assume this will be a global program and extend to U.S. publishers, though Google has not confirmed that. Selected national publications are doing relatively well and have seen digital subscription growth, but this is not true of the industry overall.
Why we care. In April, France’s competition authority ordered Google to negotiate with French publishers and news agencies to pay for their content under the EU’s digital copyright law. This ruling and the prospect of others like it across the globe may have helped accelerate Google’s decision to license news content. Call it a case of enlightened self-interest on Google’s part.
We’ll know more and whether this will be a meaningful source of revenue for publishers when more terms come out and the program launches later this year.